There’s not always enough time (or money) for social-impact professionals to embark on a truly epic adventure. But with the early days of summer just a few short weeks away, it’s easy to start daydreaming about empty meeting calendars and a few screen-free days to really enjoy the season. Summer vacation is officially on the horizon, which means ideas to maximize PTO are in full effect.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail, swimming with sharks, or bungee jumping from a towering cliff will certainly get your heart racing. But even if your only escape from the office is your daily lunch outside in the sun, you can still access the thrill of adventure thanks to these four books about life lived on the fringe.
Whether it’s navigating the outdoors, confronting troubled waters, or contending with unexpected obstacles, the stories in these pages will inspire bigger, badder journeys while offering insights into teamwork, passion, and facing fears that could be useful back in the office, too.
In the Heart of the Sea
Sipping Mai Tais on white sandy beaches and gazing out over a placid blue ocean sounds like a dream vacation. But In the Heart of the Sea, a tale about whalers from an 1820s fishing village, reminds readers that those peaceful waters can easily turn tumultuous.
This true account of the 240-ton whaleship Essex follows a lively and dynamic crew whose ship is struck down by a sperm whale. It’s as much Titanic as it is Moby Dick, which means it’s best read with feet firmly planted on land.
Readers will be captivated by the beautifully written prose, historic details and heart-pumping account of men struggling to survive as their ship goes down. It’s a gripping and adventurous account of survival at sea that will have readers relieved to return to the office.
For outdoor adventurers, through-hiking the Appalachian Trail is a major bucket list item. But the 2,190-mile journey takes the average hiker six months, making it less than ideal for a regular nine-to-fiver. Perhaps that’s part of what makes North such a fascinating read.
The autobiographical work follows ultra-runner Scott Jurek on his remarkable attempt to set the world record for speed on this legendary eastern trail, conquering its entire distance in fewer than 50 days.
Readers will be inspired by the obviously impressive physical and mental feats of this world-class athlete. But there’s more to the story than just feet on the trail. Chapters alternate between Jurek’s own narrative and that of his wife, who served as a mobile one-woman crew for her husband on the run. Their story is a reminder that hard things—like beating a record or perhaps advocating for policy change—are more often successful when attempted as a team. In the end, we go far, but only when we go together ( a lesson equally true of the trail and the office).
Blood, Bones and Butter
Some of the biggest adventures happen in the comfort of home. At least that’s true for Gabrielle Hamilton in her book Blood, Bones and Butter. This autobiography is in part a coming-of-age story of a female chef and her quest to empower women, but also a story of love, loss, and exploration.
The book includes an inside look at some of New York City’s most famous restaurants and gives readers a glimpse at the high-speed, high-stakes life of working on the line. But for as much fire as Hamilton’s book brings, it’s balanced beautifully by captivating stories about traveling to Italy, where she fell in love with not only her partner, but also with the simplicity of Italian cuisine.
Chapters spent among friends and family in the Italian countryside will have readers feeling like they traveled alongside this famed chef. And rich details about ripe tomatoes, Tuscan sunsets, and handmade pasta just might inspire those stuck at home to be a little more adventurous when it comes to cooking that post-work dinner.
Anthropologists are known for embarking into the unknown to document new and uncharted territory in the name of science. Lily King’s Euphoria, a work of historical fiction that’s rooted in adventure, romance, and struggle, follows three budding explorers (one of whom is modeled after the famed Margaret Mead), on a quest to understand the Kiona tribe in the most remote reaches of New Guinea.
Readers will feel the sweltering heat of the Pacific and the thick humidity of the jungle on every page. But what’s most captivating about this story of dipping into the unknown is its deep dive into ideas around society, culture and romantic relationships. King shows readers the things that divide us are often also what connects us—and that what starts together doesn’t necessarily end together.
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Jill Nawrocki is a Licensed Social Worker and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer living in Brooklyn. She is an ultra runner, freelance writer and social justice warrior with a background in program management, direct practice, mindfulness and advocacy.